Tom Brokaw Saved MSNBC From Itself

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Ronald Lauder, mayormaker? Photo: Getty Images

If you are a regular viewer of Meet the Press, you've probably become comfortable with Tom Brokaw already. The former NBC News anchor took over after Tim Russert's death, and although he is a little soporific and less dogged in pursuit of answers, you get the sense that interview subjects really take him seriously — which wouldn't necessarily be the case if David Gregory or Chris Matthews had taken over. In effect, he's kept the program in good ratings and high esteem.

And today the Times tells us he hasn't only performed this magic on MTP, but he also did it for NBC News in general. Turns out it was Brokaw who "advocated" taking the squabbling, liberal-leaning Matthews and Keith Olbermann out of the anchor chairs after major political events and shifting them into analyst modes. "The mistake was to think [Olbermann] could fill both roles," Brokaw told the paper. "The other mistake was to think he wouldn't be tempted to use the anchor position to engage in commentary. That's who he is."

While most of Jacques Steinberg's Times article about the former anchor's new influence relies on quotes from Brokaw himself, we don't have trouble believing this part:

"One of the things I was told by [a senior McCain aide] was that they were so irritated, they said, 'If it's an NBC moderator, for any of these debates, we won't go,'" Mr. Brokaw said. "My name came up, and they said, 'Oh, hell, we have to do it, because it's going to be Brokaw.'"


A little self-promoting? Sure. But there was no way the McCain camp was going to go to a debate moderated by Rachel Maddow, Olbermann, or Matthews — and Chuck Todd and David Gregory probably wouldn't have the gravitas to handle it. Brian Williams, NBC's current anchor, has been notably passed over for coveted interviews with Sarah Palin. Brokaw represents a previous era of more nonpartisan news-reading on the part of the NBC news organizations. Plus, old coots love him, and the McCain campaign loves old coots like a fox loves slow chickens.

We wouldn't be surprised if Palin eventually does sit down for Meet the Press before she does it for NBC Nightly News. McCain's strategists have surely learned to keep Palin away from hard-hitting evening anchors eager to score points for themselves and for ratings. A low-pressure interview with the sleepy Brokaw might be the only chance at recovery Palin is going to get before November 4.

With Brokaw As Elder Statesman, NBC Plans Future of ‘Meet the Press’ [NYT]
Earlier: NBC Tells Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews to Go to Their Rooms and Think About What They’ve Done